Dr. Kirwan To Education Commission: ‘We’ve Reached The Beginning Of The End’

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education held its most recent meeting today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission is charged with reviewing and assessing current education financing formulas and accountability measures.

Dr. Kirwan opened the meeting with a message to the Commission, saying, “we’ve reached the beginning of the end and are beginning to end… Up until now, we’ve been at the 30 thousand foot level with our discussions, we have to come down to 15 thousand feet, then 10 thousand feet, then 5 thousand feet, and then hopefully have a smooth landing in December.”

Pre-Kindergarten 

Commissioners began the day by trying to come to a consensus on several recommendations from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). The first NCEE recommendation is to expand and intensify education and support services for all 3-4 year-olds in the State.

There seems to be a general consensus on the idea of ensuring children are better prepared for kindergarten and, when necessary, providing pre-K. However, Commissioners disagree on how to implement and assess pre-K programs. Much of the debate centers around the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA).

According to Commissioner Craig Rice, Councilmember, Montgomery County, “all kids should be given the assessment test before they go to kindergarten so that teachers know each child’s readiness prior to the first day of class.” Commissioner David Helfman, Executive Director, Maryland State Education Association, disagreed, saying “the KRA was designed to measure the effectiveness of pre-K programs, not to get a baseline test score for each student… It’s about the administrator deciding what kind of sample needs to be looked at, not allowing individuals to decide whether they want their children to take it or not.” Commissioner Rice said that an accurate and representative sample is impossible without requiring all parents bring their kids to take the assessment, which would be impossible.

Sensing a lack of consensus on pre-K, Commission staff promised to invite the Maryland Department of Education to provide more information on pre-K and the KRA during the next meeting.

Teacher Preparation / Career Lattices

There seems to be agreement on many NCEE recommendations regarding teacher preparation and teacher incentives, including:

  • The number of teacher preparation programs offered at Maryland colleges should be reduced but not limited to research institutions
    • The State should use a data-driven process to select which teacher preparation programs should be offered based on producing successful teachers
  • A tuition forgiveness/other incentive programs should be developed to encourage top tier high school graduates to pursue the teaching profession
  • Alternative pathways into the teaching profession should not be eliminated, they should be modified and strengthened
  • A career ladder that includes a rigorous assessment of teaching performance should be created in each district. The ladder should lead to a top performance level, perhaps a “Master Teacher”

Commissioner Bill Valentine, County Commissioner, Allegany County, questioned recommendations to increase/alter teacher certification requirements, saying, “I question the timeline here. How much time are current teachers going to have to adhere to these new standards?” Chairman Kirwan noted that changes to certification requirements will require further discussion.

Governance Structure to Implement Commission Recommendations

The idea of developing a multi-year, statewide implementation plan with specific goals and strategies to enhance Maryland’s public education system was well received. In general, Commissioners agree that while the State should be responsible for setting overall goals and strategies, Local Education Agencies should be allowed to develop master plans to meet the goals and strategies set by the State.

However, there was disagreement on how to set up a governance structure for the implementation of such a plan. Commissioners could not come to a consensus on who should oversee the plan, and thus this recommendation will be subject to further review.

Funding

Commissioners began to discuss the financial impact of any potential recommendations toward the end of the day, so they could only scratch the surface. Commissioner Rice expressed concerns over unintended consequences resulting from potential changes to education formulas, saying, “we don’t want to give less money to at-risk students by tinkering with the formulas… we need to pay special attention to what we’re doing here.” The Commission will continue with funding discussions during their next meeting.

Chairman Kirwan closed the meeting by reminding the Commission that their work must be finished by December, emphasizing the need to “find a middle ground between the funding mechanism and the framework for ensuring accountability.

The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission. MACo is entitled to two representatives on the Commission, under the legislation.

Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair, and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Vice Chair, represent MACo on the Commission.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, October 12, 2017; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

Click here to view today’s meeting materials.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.